Employee who ‘overindulged’ on alcohol on Anzac Day wins compensation

by HRD12 Sep 2017
A former employee who was terminated for drinking too much alcohol on Anzac Day has been awarded more than $8000 after it was found she was treated harshly.

Avril Chapman was employed by Tassal as a level 1 processing employee, which involved scaling, slicing, weighing and packing fish.

Chapman was employed on 1 August 2012 and was terminated for misconduct on 1 May 2017.

On 25 April 2017, Chapman telephoned Tassal at 4.56 p.m. and left the following message:

“Hi Michelle, its Avril one of your most loved pains in the arse. Um its ANZAC day, my birthday, and I admit I have over indulged so I’m taking into account one of the golden rules be fit for work and I’m not going to be fit for work so I won’t be there. But um love ya, catch ya on the flip side.”

The message was heard the next morning and prompted Chapman’s senior manager, Duane Baker, to be concerned that she was using a golden safety rule to excuse or justify her behaviour in consuming alcohol to an extent that she anticipated she would be unable to work the next day.

Baker felt this was likely to amount to misconduct. The allegation was that Chapman had breached the Respondents Code of Conduct by not being responsible for her actions and accountable for its consequences.

A letter was given to Chapman when she arrived at work on 27 April 2017. It read:

“You had deliberately made a decision to consume alcohol to the extent that you would not be fit for work on 26 April 2017 when you were required to attend and be in a fit state to carry out your duties safely.”

Chapman responded by email on 27 April at 7.06 a.m. The full response was as follows:

“Firstly, I did not deliberately make the decision to consume alcohol to the point were (sic) I would be unfit to attend work the following day,” read the email.

“It was by BIRTHDAY, and friends dropped by unannounced. I had my official birthday party on the Monday night and wasn’t expecting visitors on Tuesday, however, visitors I got.

“As the afternoon went on I realised it was going to be a long night and I believe I acted responsibly and respectfully by contacting management to let them know I wouldn’t be fit for work.

“Would it have been wiser for mw (sic) to call at 6 am on the 26th and plead illness? I think if I had done that then I wouldn’t be writing this letter now, but it wouldn’t have been the honest thing to do in my opinion.

“It was not my intention to deliberately take the day off, the events were not planned and not expected, and again, I feel that contacting management on the 25th was the right and responsible thing to do.”

The commission deputy president David Barclay found the company had a valid reason for terminating Chapman.

“It makes no sense to me that a person at 4.46pm, some 13 hours before having to work, and before being involved in any activities which might result in impairment for work would decide to predict that she will be unfit to work the next day,’’ said Barclay.

Even though the FWC found reinstatement was not suitable, Chapman was awarded $8,229 in compensation.

Barclay added that the case is not dissimilar to the situation of an employee “taking a sicky” without being ill.

“Here the Applicant “took a sicky” in circumstances where she had voluntarily embarked upon a course of conduct that resulted in incapacity for work,” said Barclay.

“The situation is perhaps made worse by the Applicant’s acknowledgement that she could have gone to bed early and been fit for work the next day.”

Barclay said that because this is the first time that Chapman has conducted herself in that manner in five years of working for Tassal it means termination for her employment was harsh.

“I agree with the Applicant that another sanction such as performance management or a further, perhaps even final, warning was appropriate,” said Barclay.

He also agreed with Tassal that Chapman’s lack of awareness, acceptance and commitment to meeting Tassal’s expectations demonstrates that the trust and confidence required for an employment relationship had been “destroyed”.

HRD contacted Tassel for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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